With a population of about 2,000 people, the town of Rolling Fork may be small – but what it lacks in a large population, it makes up for in culture and history.
“We’ve got blues, bears, Native American history, tragic love stories, Civil War battles and agriculture,” says Leslie Miller, president of the Rolling Fork Visitor Center and Museum. The town itself is located in Sharkey County in the Lower Delta region, which is an alluvial plain (i.e., very flat land).
“From the highest point to the lowest point, it’s probably a 4- or 5-foot drop,” says Fred Miller, mayor of Rolling Fork. “This makes it ideal for growing crops like soybeans, corn, rice and cotton.”
Every October, the citizens of Rolling Fork celebrate President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt’s famous bear hunt in the Mississippi Delta with an event called the Great Delta Bear Affair. As the story goes, Roosevelt came to the area in 1902 to hunt a bear as the guest of a plantation owner in Sharkey County. At one point during the hunt, the bear was cornered by the party’s hunting dogs and grabbed the guide’s favorite pup. In response, the guide clubbed the bear with the stock of his gun, rendering him nearly unconscious. When the president came upon the scene, he refused to shoot the tied-up, injured bear, saying it would be unsportsmanlike to do so.
“All of this ended up the newspaper and they started calling it ‘Teddy’s bear’ because he wouldn’t kill it,” Leslie says.
Shortly after, a toy shop owner in New York City began making stuffed bears known as Teddy bears. Today, Rolling Fork pays homage to that history with its most famous festival. Each fall, locals and visitors come together for great music, vendors and entertainment. Wood artist Dayton Scoggins carves a new themed bear from a donated log each year that gets displayed in the city. (Last year, it was a police bear that now lives outside the local police station.)
See more: Travel Mississippi: For Coffee Lovers
Famous bluesman Muddy Waters (whose actual name was McKinley Morganfield) was born right outside the town in an area called Jug’s Corner, but always considered Rolling Fork home – he even mentions it in a few songs. Known best for his tunes “Mannish Boy” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” that helped transform traditional Delta blues into the electric Chicago blues style, Waters and his music come to life in various places downtown.
At the Muddy Waters plaza, you can see a sculpture of his red guitar and visit a replica of the shack he lived in for the first three years of his life (and even sit on the front porch!). At the Rolling Fork Visitor Center and Museum, you can view interactive video interviews with those who knew Waters. Because his story began in Rolling Fork, the town is home to his Mississippi Blue Trail marker. The Mississippi Blues Trail allows visitors from around the world to take a journey through the state learning about influential Blues musicians.
“I’d say Rolling Fork gets most of its visitors because of Muddy Waters,” Leslie Miller says. “We’ve had people from 30 different countries who’ve come to visit.”
There’s also a gazebo dedicated to Waters on the Courthouse Square, a perfect place for snapping a photo.
Rolling Fork has its fair share of laid-back activities the whole family will enjoy. Take Farmer Jim’s Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze, which is open every October, for example. You can choose from several varieties of orange and heirloom pumpkins in a pick-it-yourself field or test out your navigation skills by making your way through the corn maze. If you dare, join Farmer Jim’s Haunted Maze on the fourth Saturday of October for spooky Halloween-inspired fun.
Pick up a brochure from the museum to take a self-guided driving tour and retrace the steps of Confederate soldiers during Steele’s Bayou expedition. You can also take a five-minute drive north of town to Mont Helena for a guided tour of a beautiful plantation home dating back to 1896 (home to that tragic love story!).
Agriculture is king around Rolling Fork, thanks to its rich soil, but it’s also abundant with nature and wildlife. Check out the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which has seven national wildlife refuges, including swamps filled with alligators and shorebirds. You can climb two observation towers to get a better vantage point too. Near Rolling Fork, there’s also the Delta National Forest, made up of the largest bottomland hardwood trees in U.S. Forest Service parks. If you enjoy paddling, you can put in a boat at Little Sunflower River Boat Landing and paddle to the confluence of Little and Big Sunflower rivers to take in the scene from a different point of view. Indian mounds, which were built by Native Americans who lived in the area from A.D. 900 to A.D. 1500, are also unique to the area and fascinating to explore – check out the Mississippi Mound Trail for maps.
See more: Welcome to Hattiesburg, a.k.a. Hub City